I'm the Washington editor for National Review and a CNBC political analyst. I'm closely covering the fiscal impasse on Capitol Hill, especially the dynamics within the Republican Party.

Twitter http://twitter.com/robertcostaNRO

NRO http://www.nationalreview.com/author/robert-costa

Comments: 2251 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

PsyPup834 karma

As someone who has never been to the US and finds American politics confusing, I think most of the world is currently wondering how exactly a government with the power and funds of the US can allow this to happen? .

Please explain what the people who have caused this are thinking and why they can get away with it, as many countries comparable to the US consider the US attitude towards public healthcare extremely confusing already, let alone how far this has progressed.

Edit : I'm surprised to find this actually downvoted... so I'm going to reword it slightly in the hopes of satisfying those who may feel I'm judging their politics.

Edit 2 : Wow, I can't believe how popular this has turned out :) However, I can't help but be disappointed by the fact our Mr Costa doesn't appear to have replied to any questions for 4 hours? themantis5000 has probably explained this better than anyone has thus far, all the upvotes to him!

Edit 3 : Well this is now my most upvoted comment, by a mile, it's been pointed out that Mr Costa did reply to this but in response to one of mantis' posts below.

themantis50001070 karma

TL;DR - The American system rewards representatives who band together as a bloc ("partisan politics"), and there are surprisingly few ways for American voters to hold the current members of the House of Representatives accountable for their actions. This creates conditions where legislative extremism, like holding hostage the US government's main budget (or the global financial system), becomes standard practice.

  1. The House of Representatives is comprised of 435 members, each acting as the representative for people living in a "district," a piece of geography with, on average, 710,000 people. The person who gets the most votes in each of these districts in biennial elections is the Representative for that district.

  2. Most of the district boundaries are determined by groups that try to protect incumbents and keep as many seats as possible in the control of one party. The boundaries were redrawn most recently in 2010, and Republicans had an advantage -- many district boundaries were drawn to protect Republican representatives.

  3. In 2012 (the most recent election for every member in the House of Representatives), there were more votes for Democrats than for Republicans. However, because of the biased boundaries (mentioned in 2.), the Republicans have a large majority of seats in the House of Representatives.

  4. The House of Representatives has the sole authority to create spending revenue1 bills. Any federal government spending revenue* must be approved by the House first.

  5. Because many Republican members of the House come from "safe" districts, these representatives believe that so long as they're acting to oppose Obama and the Democrats, they will not lose their election in 2014. They fear that if they appear to "give in," then their conservative districts will abandon them in 2014 and they will lose their jobs.

  6. The Republican Party has, for years, described Obama's health care law ("Obamacare") as a serious threat to America's very existence. Many Republicans feel justified in taking extreme measures to prevent this law from actually taking effect (many Obamacare provisions begin in 2014).

  7. Because they feel empowered by the biased districts (mentioned in 2.), the Republicans in the House of Representatives feel that they will not be held accountable for shutting down the government to oppose Obamacare -- even though the shutdown is very unpopular nationally.

edit: Thank you for the reddit gold.

1 edit: /u/everycredit points out that the Constitution requires that revenue bills have to originate in the House. The current government shutdown could have been averted with a bill that originated in passed2 the Senate. Any government spending must be approved by both the House and the Senate. As of this writing, the Senate passed a bill that would fund the government, but the House did not.

2 edit: /u/The_Bard corrects me again to note that all bills technically originate in the House, although in practice they happen at the same time or "out-of-sync." My original point 4. mostly still stands. I wanted to explain the basics of why and how the House is the center of attention right now.

RobertCosta168 karma

Some good points here, and I'd add another to the mix: due to the way the Tea Party, Ted Cruz, and others rallied behind the defunding idea in the summer, all of these factors started to coalesce around the concept, which then snowballed into something larger than most of the right blocs could have expected. It then became the House strategy, because Boehner was under pressure to go along. So a rally cry by a few on repeal/defund goes from being sentiment of most in GOP to becoming the party's official position, and what we're watching now is the consequence of that series of events. Democrats read the writing on the wall and decided to sit on their hands and let the scene play out as Republican leaders struggled to control their own narrative.

sshan273 karma

If the shutdown lasts for 2 weeks and the debt ceiling gets tied into negotiations what percentage of the Republican House caucus understands how catastrophic a default would be?

RobertCosta368 karma

Most of the conference is well aware of the consequences of default. In fact, over the past few years, the House GOP leadership has actually hosted private meetings for members about what default means and why it shouldn't happen. But, at the same time, Republicans are very eager to get some kind of 2011-esque concession from the White House and Senate Democrats on the budget, when they were able to pass legislation that led to sequestration. Of course, the political climate then was different, due to the GOP having recently won the House, but the GOP is hoping for a similar outcome this time, and you have leaders like Paul Ryan publicly talking about a larger agreement being possible. I'm still skeptical though, since most Republicans are unwilling, at all, to bend on taxes, and Democrats aren't exactly scrambling to cut a big deal with Boehner, who they think is in a weakened position.

Opheltes387 karma

Republicans are very eager to get some kind of 2011-esque concession

Most Democrats have come to believe that 2011 concession was a huge mistake, because it motivated the Republicans to start taking the government hostage every time there's a fiscal deadline. Given that, why would the Democrats repeat that mistake now - especially given that the polls indicate it's the Republicans who will be punished? Won't it just encourage further Republican intransigence down the road?

capecodcarl200 karma

Republicans won't be affected by this though since most of them are in secure districts after recent gerrymandering. Nothing will really change until after 2020 when the next Census occurs IMHO. From listening to the news, only one Republican representative is in a district currently deemed a toss-up in the 2014 elections, everyone else is secure.

If you watch Fox News they're actually spinning the shut down as a good thing and pro-Republican viewers tend to watch that channel for their news. Fox was just saying this morning "Wow, only 6% of the EPA workers are deemed essential and at work today, that really shows we could cut the other 94% and save the government money." I wanted to punch my TV.

RobertCosta71 karma

Republicans will be affected in a big picture sense: they may feel the burn next November during the midterms. But you're right-for many House Rs and Senate Rs who come from deep-red areas, the pressure isn't to come to the center, but to hold firm on the right and battle for concessions that during most divided gov't eras would never seem plausible. But because the conservative movement has become such a strong force within the GOP, the expectations are stoked daily about what is achievable, and this creates major problems for the leadership in both chambers. They're constantly pushing back against the idea that they're "not doing enough" for the cause or conceding too much ground.

probabli178 karma

Therein lies the rub..

The Democrats look like they may just have to call the Republicans bluff. Combined with the shutdown it'll cost the US billions of dollars and devastate confidence in the market, but if the Democrats concede every time the republicans pull the pin out of the grenade then there is no point them even participating in the system.

ruiner885087 karma

I know it will be terrible for the economy if the Republicans are stupid enough to let us default, but I'm to the point where I think that the Democrats need to call their bluff. In the long run I think that preserving the integrity of our system of government is more important than the economy. If we set a precedent that any small group can get whatever they want by holding the economy hostage, then that is a complete breakdown of our system of government. I also think that it might even get bad enough that many of the Tea Party members might get voted out by either a moderate Republican, an independent or even a Democrat.

RobertCosta58 karma

That's what many Rs are betting: Democrats won't blink on CR, but they will blink on the debt limit, so may be best to wait out a shutdown and push for a concession from Reid and Obama.

tootie135 karma

I know the GOP tactic has been colloquially referred to as a "tantrum" in some headlines, but this behavior does actually sound a lot like what my kids do. It worked once, so they try it again only this time mom and dad put their foot down.

RobertCosta113 karma

There's a reason for their optimism, even if it is eventually proven to be unrealistic optimism. They look back at 2011 (think Woodward, Price of Politics) and they were able to get sequestration. They think, if they play their cards right, they can do the same w/ CR and debt limit this month. But the prob is that 2011 was a different political climate than fall 2013; GOP had just won House, Obama was on ropes. Now, instead of being in constant talks w/ WH a la 2011, the GOP civil war is a public spectacle, which hurts their ability to make similar fiscal demands.

thegoldengun007241 karma

If Boehner were to crack under the pressure, will there be a call for him to resign as speaker by the 30-40 hardliners you've written about?

RobertCosta275 karma

I don't think it'd be so much about whether he'd resign, but whether he could convince his conference to go along with him as he attempts to craft a larger bargain with Democrats on the debt limit. As I wrote about last night, unity within the conference is Boehner's first and most important objective. Since the House GOP has such fragile internal politics, he spends a lot of time shoring that up. And because he knows he has a limited hand, I doubt he "cracks," but he's certainly try to navigate through this while 1) keeping GOP members together, and 2) making sure the GOP isn't totally blamed.


Se7en_speed538 karma

and here I thought the national good was the first priority

servantoffire360 karma


edit Thanks for the gold, Representative Boehner!

wonkifier56 karma

If you're a true believer, it's entirely possible one could think "I know what's best for the country, so it's best for the country that I remain in power. It's better to take a little pain now than have a catastrophic failure later".

servantoffire76 karma

That'd be great, but unfortunately the first thing they cover in any Poli Sci class is "the primary goal of a political party is to gain power, and then remain in power."

RobertCosta177 karma

And sometimes the goal of politicians is to stay in power within their own party, not just to ensure the party itself keeps its power.

thirdfounder50 karma

to what extent is this not about the surface issues themselves (the ACA, the debt ceiling), but instead about a play for control of the GOP itself by the elites that fund the Tea Party complex of think tanks/media/Congresspeople within it?

we're discussing Boehner's path ahead as though it were possible to placate the Tea Party caucus on the issues. what if that isn't so? what if they are instead bent on breaking Establishment control of the GOP -- something they seem to have made a lot of inroads toward already, given Boehner's extensive catering to their wants and needs?

RobertCosta58 karma

If it isn't possible to get his conference around some kind of deal on the R or debt limit, he may be forced to break the so-called Hastert rule and bring something that'll cause an R revolt to the floor. But knowing Boehner's way of leading his members, it's doubtful he does that, and only will do it only if all other options have been exhausted. The minute he tries for a clean CR, it'll be like when he brought Plan B to the floor during the fiscal cliff in Dec 2012: open revolt.

auntanniesalligator23 karma

That seems backwards to me: it sounds like Boehner needs to hold firm on the CR so he'll have cooperation from the tea party/hardliners for the debt ceiling fight. But isn't it the tea party/hardliners who will be pushing for the debt ceiling fight too? If they indicate they won't cooperate with him they're telling him he might as well put a clean debt ceiling increase on the floor as well because now they won't even be able to pass the house versions with demands attached like they're doing now.

RobertCosta42 karma

Yes, they'll be pushing for a debt-limit standoff, too. So Boehner is forced to grapple with the situation: does he try for a small CR deal now or just wait and try to build something bigger on CR/debt limit in mid October, perhaps even as the shutdown continues. I'm at the Cap right now, and that's what I'm hearing is pretty likely, at least from perspective of House Rs. Also, keep an eye on Paul Ryan, b/c if shutdown does continue, a grander deal on debt limit will make him key player. http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/360173/paul-ryan-debt-limit-strategist-robert-costa

apollo88834 karma

What's 'CR', I've seen that abbreviation a couple of times now in this context.

(I'm not American)

TehNoff56 karma

Continuing Resolution. Basically instead of writing out a new budget or dysfunctional government keeps going "let's keep doing what we've been doing."

BillTowne114 karma

For a budget, or any bill, to become a law, it has to be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate then signed by the President. If the two houses pass different versions, they have a "conference committee" with members from both houses of Congress, the Senate and the House, to draft a compromise version that both houses then vote on. But the House has refused for months to form a conference committee with the Senate to resolve issues with the Senate version of the budget. So now, with the old spending authority expired, the only option is to pass a law authorizing a continuation of the previous budget levels to give them time so they can pass an new budget. This is called a "Continuing Resolution" since it just continues the current spending levels.

This refusal to negotiate with the Senate is part of the “Williamsburg Accord,” a strategy developed by the Republicans when they lost they last election for the House Republicans

to boycott all direct negotiations with President Obama, and then subsequently extended that boycott to negotiations with the Democratic Senate. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/30/dont-forget-what-the-shutdown-is-really-about/?wprss=rss_ezra-klein&clsrd)

RobertCosta67 karma

Good pts, Bill. The Williamsburg Accord is an important moment in 2013 House politics and why "regular order" has become the driving force in how House GOP approaches fiscal deals. Here's some more information on how regular order has become a rallying cry and limited Boehner's ability to navigate nuances of divided government: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/345883/slow-motion-sausage-factory

surffrus225 karma


RobertCosta339 karma

It's not certain, but privately even conservative Republicans tell me they expect to give retroactive pay to federal workers. This shutdown (to most of them) has never been about causing problems for federal employees, but about putting political pressure on Reid and Obama.

Trinition237 karma

So this would mean instead of paying people for working, we'd pay people for the time they weren't working? For the workers who expected uninterrupted work and pay, it makes sense. But from a myopic fiscally conservative viewpoint, it's worse than the status quo. I realize it's not the real issue here, but it's an interesting side effect.

RobertCosta135 karma

Agreed- but it's not even a topic right now. I'm at the Cap as we speak and everything is about political capital and who has it, not about whether federal employees will be paid, since there is an assumption in both parties they will be paid. The outside stuff--national park stories, furloughs--are important. But inside Congress, it's all about the eventual deal, maybe tied to the debt limit, and who will cave first.

RobertCosta195 karma

Fyi-I'm at the Capitol reporting, but I'll be diving in and out of this all day, so keep the questions coming. Thanks. -costa

philasurfer136 karma

Is there any possibility that a group of 15-20 moderate House republicans would break off and make a deal with democrats to put one of those moderate republicans in as Speaker using democratic votes? Particularly if we get to the debt ceiling and it appears no deal will be made, is this a possibility to avoid a catastrophe?

RobertCosta155 karma

No. Peter King of NY and Charlie Dent of PA tried this the other day on Monday's rule vote but Boehner whipped against them, told them to stand down and trust him. By the end of the vote, they were the only two moderates who broke w/ leadership's "fight on" strategy. That was a sign of weakness for them within the conference. Doubtful many Rs are taking pointers from them right now, even if potentially 100+ of the privately think this situation needs to be resolved fast. In a sense, they've messaged the shutdown too much, too far to suddenly break and go along with centrist Peter King. http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/360122/holding-firm-robert-costa

walkendc14 karma

Bear in mind that no one else seems to be asking for Boehner's job. There are plenty of people disaffected with him but no one else thinks they can whip the Tea Partiers into shape either.

RobertCosta10 karma

That's right--put Cantor, Tom Cole, Kevin McCarthy, or Paul Ryan in the job and their ability to create a significantly different dynamic would be just as much a challenge for them as it is for Boehner. So much of the GOP's challenge in the House isn't about Boehner, per se, but about larger fissures on the right and within the party.

AVG_Joseph110 karma

First, I'd like to thank you for doing an AMA and for the fantastic reporting that has been coming from you and Jonathan Strong at the National Review.

What does the leadership see as the endgame here? What concessions do they expect to gain and what is their timeline?

How does the recent World War Two Memorial fiasco factor into the GOP's plans to win the PR war?

RobertCosta130 karma

Thanks much for reading NR. We appreciate it. The endgame for both sides right now is murky. I don't think, though, that it's a so-called "clean CR," which is what Harry Reid wants and Boehner doesn't. Instead, it's likely going to be a clean-ish CR--a clean CR with a smaller Democratic concession attached--and then a promise to fight on toward the debt-limit deadline. But Reid isn't under pressure yet to do this, which is why he keeps sending every House bill back. As long as he believes House Rs will shoulder the blame for the shutdown, his endgame is simply not blinking, and hoping Boehner eventually gives in or faces pressures from the inside or outside that shake up the stalemate.

kat_without_a_hat88 karma

I'm a student who, like a number of my friends, can only attend school thanks to federal aid and the potential default is troubling to say the least. Based on my Facebook feed, I don't think many my age realize the effects of a default. Could you explain the long-reaching effects of defaulting and what that might mean for students? Also, it's likely that I've just been reading from the wrong media outlets, but it feels like everyone is talking about the ACA and not the debt--do you agree? Is so, why would that be the case?

KakariBlue18 karma

The ACA and CR are the immediate concern, tune in next week/the week after to hear about the debt ceiling. It's likely that they will all be resolved at once, but it seems everyone is hoping the debt ceiling will be increased without as much fanfare as last time.

I'm interested in Costa's reply of course, but that's my understanding of it at this point.

RobertCosta20 karma

I'm looking at Ryan as the person who'll push Boehner away from small CR deal and a major fiscal standoff on debt limit http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/360173/paul-ryan-debt-limit-strategist-robert-costa

MrBDubz84 karma

How long should we expect this to last and how will it affect my average day?

RobertCosta136 karma

Anywhere from 1-2 weeks, but always remember, the situation is very fluid and a few key variables (Boehner buckling, Senate Democrats becoming divided) could quickly move the debate in a certain direction and break the logjam. If it does last 2 weeks, the talks will likely be folded into negotiations on the debt limit, which is set for Oct. 17. The standoff affects your day if you work or interact with the federal government in any way. Some parts of the government have been shuttered, while others are open, but with limited operations.

RobertCosta82 karma

Folks, here's what I'm hearing about the latest news, that the WH and Hill leaders will huddle to discuss CR... Republicans are skeptical that Obama will offer anything on the CR that they can sell to their conference, but the leadership will be looking to see how much he's willing to play ball, at least at this early stage, on things like entitlement reform/sequestration as the debt limit nears. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304176904579111091033132998.html

Recentsciencesays69 karma

How do you think the lack of appropriations will interface with the approaching debt limit deadline?

RobertCosta115 karma

Both the CR to fund the government and the debt limit are increasingly interrelated, and I keep hearing how, if the shutdown continues, the final deal for both showdowns will be combined. In the meantime, House Republicans are trying to deal with the lack of appropriations by selectively funding parts of the government, such as the national parks or the Washington, D.C. city government. It's a small-ball strategy meant to put Democrats in a corner by pressuring them to slowly reopen the government--and for now, Democrats are resisting.

maowsers9328 karma

How is slowly funding the government supposed to put Democrats in a corner? I don't really understand that. What is the angle there?

dchance65 karma

It's because by putting the pieces back in place that only the GOP cares about, it puts pressure on the Democrats to cut a deal to get everything open. In doing that deal, it would mean that the democrats would be coming in at a significant disadvantage because the GOP has what it wants funded and the Democrats do not, which means that in the end, in order to finally get everything restored and opened, the Democrats would have to essentially give the GOP what they want: defund or significantly hamper the ACA. The only concession that either side has given up is the one that should have been: guaranteeing that the military is paid on time and in proper order.

RobertCosta47 karma

The House leadership is dealing with a conference that has been told since the summer by Cruz and others that defunding/repeal is the only option, or something worth an extended fight. Boehner never wanted a shutdown, but due to House GOP politics, he has to go along with that messaging while tempering expectations during closed-door meetings. It's a messy and slow process, but that's what he's doing.

FranklinDelanoPug47 karma

What would it take for the GOP to break away from the far right? They have to see how the extremists are costing them elections and killing them nationally at this point. Dont the benefits of some gerrymandered House seats fade when compared to decreasing odds of winning the WH?

RobertCosta75 karma

Ezra Klein and I discussed this question on Tuesday. If you have more Qs, let me know. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/10/01/why-boehner-doesnt-just-ditch-the-right/

arg191843 karma

Did the GOP give up too much negotiating ground by offering to compromise after the defund line? Can they go back?

RobertCosta83 karma

That's a good point. They've gone quite quickly from full defund to now passing small CRs on Tuesday. If the debt limit wasn't approaching, I'd be inclined to think they've given up to much. But it's all about the context. They're trying, in a sense, to wind down the CR showdown and then bring the big fiscal debate to the debt limit. So it's more like quiet before the storm--if you can call a contentious shutdown quiet.

sacunn21534 karma

Hey Bob, you were my class president in High school.

That is all.

RobertCosta24 karma

Good to hear from a fellow Pennsbury HS grad!

Hill_IQ24 karma

Staffer here. Great coverage so far. Was a bit annoyed to see the vote schedule on your twitter an hour before we got it though...

Why do you think the politico story on the Boehner / Reid negotiations for employer contributions hasn't made it outside of the beltway yet? It seemed pretty damming to me.

RobertCosta24 karma

Yeah, it's a huge Beltway story. One, it shows Boehner, at the least, has differences at times with the message he's selling on the floor. And it shows how little Reid World cares about burning bridges with the House GOP leadership--a bad omen for any quick resolution.

spkr4thedead5111 karma

What can we do to get the media to stop suggesting that both parties are equally at fault for the shut down?

RobertCosta5 karma

It's the typical way these things are covered: Lead paragraph w/ news, R perspective, D perspective, centrist/academic take, and conclusion. What's more important right now is which personalities are driving the talks and who has the political capital to survive/win showdown.

Fluffinup5 karma

Hi Mr. Costa! Thank you for your IAMA. I understand that the House offered to settle with getting rid of the ACA waivers and exemptions for government employees and big business. Do you know or can you explain what was it that kept the Senate and President from at least being willing to consider that aspect, which most Americans are against. Also, do you find the intransigence worse on the part of the Dems or the GOP? It seems to me they should all sit down and work this out for us. Thank you again.

RobertCosta4 karma

The president and Senate Dems believe the House GOP has a poor negotiating position due to internal GOP problems and president's 2012 victory, so as much as they may acknowledge problems with the ACA, they're not going to engage in talks about defund/delay--and they believe the political dynamics will work in their favor as they hold firm.

flapjackboy2 karma

Do all the nutjobs in the Republican Party that forced this shutdown really think that they will get Obama to kill his signature bill by doing this?

Just to be clear, I'm not saying all Republicans are nutjobs, just the ones who have kept trying to kill the ACA.

RobertCosta24 karma

Remember, the defund/repeal efforts aren't only about actually killing the law or even bringing Obama to the table, but about messaging ahead of the 2014 midterms. Republicans are already planning to, once again, run against Obamacare and these campaigns against the law are part of setting up that argument. The shutdown, in a sense, is the ultimate messaging opportunity, since it coincides with the beginning of Obamacare's implementation, when Republicans are trying to make a broad case about federal dysfunction and bureaucracy. So I don't think many GOPers think Obama will kill his signature bill, but they are hoping to have a better chance of killing it in the coming years by chipping away at it this year, before it sort of calcifies in the public imagination.